Like Gifts You Never Asked For: Sue MacLeod’s Mood Swing, with Pear

the delicate detailing
of collarbone,
how this is not diminished

Who else could see her in this light?

The beauty of unhinging lines in a poem, of unhooking the narrative thread and giving it some slack, is that the reader can see what the poet sees — gems and beads on a blank white cloth. As MacLeod writes, “There is no need for essay // every detail was the best of its kind — // the pond, old sheds, & the very ducks themselves.” The danger occurs when these lines are stretched so far apart that for the poet anything goes, everything looks great, and for the reader nothing makes sense (unless, of course, your modus operandi as a poet is to create as much parataxis as possible). MacLeod dances some of her poems to the very edge of this danger, especially in her found poems.

As in any creative dance, there’s always the possibility of a misstep, of landing a bit wrong. MacLeod likes to experiment in her poems, and though I admire her pluck, lines like the following seem to miss the mark:

In her dream there are so many steps downtothesubwayso.
gradually clarifying blur of black &

white. tile. which. gleams.

Luckily, there are many instances of strong writing throughout Mood Swing, with Pear. At the end of “The Rightful,” “the moon is pouring silver buckets on the water now. The shirts / are iridescent on the line and the man I am about to meet is on his way / to claim them.” And in her poem, “Counting down (an invitation?)”

because of twilight:
birdsong at your window, glass
of Jameson on the side, angular line of your
wrist, light burnishing the fine
dark hairs, that time when everything is oiled, about
to turn

Macleod’s poetry finds strength in the personal. Poems like “The aunts & the uncles, they wouldn’t sit still for their pictures but I caught them anyway,” “Through the swinging door,” and her long poem at the end of the book, “Where the sound comes through,” touch the reader, and are like “this gift they left you / that you never / asked for.”


Al Rempel’s books of poetry are This Isn’t the Apocalypse We Hoped For and Understories. He has a third book of poetry forthcoming with Mother Tongue Publishing entitled Undiscovered Country. His poems have been published in a variety of journals and he can be found at



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